It feels like the Kansas City Chiefs’ season has been a bit of a roller coaster — but the team is still 3-1 — and in the AFC West driver’s seat.
On Sunday, it faces a Minnesota Vikings team that just won its first game of the season. While the Vikings have one incredible offensive weapon, they have otherwise been fairly unremarkable.
That’s not to say this will be an easy game for the Chiefs. With the talent on the passing offenses of each team, it’s likely to be a bit of a shootout. Will we see the Chiefs defense that dominated through the first three weeks — or the one that let the Jets climb back in the game on a career day for their quarterback Zach Wilson?
As we head into Sunday’s matchup, here are a few Kansas City players who could be trending.
Linebacker Leo Chenal: Even with Nick Bolton missing some time, Kansas City’s entire linebacker group has been very good this season. But the main story from the room might be the continued rise of Leo Chenal, who has shown he can be a pass rusher — in addition to being a downhill force in the running game. His instincts have been impressive; he has seemed to play faster every week as he grows into his position. Since Minnesota hasn’t had much success running the ball, Chenal could be a key factor there — and he could also notch a big play or two by getting to Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Running back Isiah Pacheco: Yes, we just featured the running back in Week 4’s winners and losers — but there’s still room for him to climb. It’s already clear that the Kansas City offense is at its best when it is balanced. It’s also clear that Pacheco brings energy and physicality on every snap — and that he’s better with more volume. On Sunday, Pacheco should continue to get significant carries and be more of an offensive focus. Over the last two weeks, Minnesota has been very good against the run — but in Week 2, the team gave up nearly 260 yards to D’Andre Swift and the Philadelphia Eagles. Since the Vikings have a good passing offense, controlling the game with Pacheco might be one of the Chiefs’ keys to victory.
Defensive lineman Chris Jones: The team’s defensive star has been impressive since returning to the lineup, with at least a sack in each of his three games. He’s in yet another contract year with the Chiefs — and is clearly motivated to earn that elusive long-term payday. The Minnesota offensive line can be vulnerable — and when he decides he’s going to get to the quarterback, nobody can block Jones. Look for another big day from the big guy.
Others trending in the right direction: cornerbacks Joshua Williams and Trent McDuffie, safety Mike Edwards, wide receiver Rashee Rice and linebacker Drue Tranquill.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling: It seems like the Chiefs need to start narrowing down their wide receivers. While it’s generally a good thing for quarterback Patrick Mahomes to spread the ball around, it feels like it’s being spread around a little too much. So far, Valde-Scantling has had only nine targets — less than half of last year’s pace. Perhaps this is a sign that the team is going focus on developing their younger receivers at all costs; directing more targets towards Rice, Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore would likely continue to come at Valdes-Scantling’s expense. Watch to see if this is the case in Minneapolis.
Wide receiver Justyn Ross: The second-year player also seems to be on the wrong end of the shift in snaps and targets. He just hasn’t been seeing the volume of opportunities that would allow any kind of impact — and it doesn’t feel like this matchup will change that.
Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed: The fourth-year player has been solid this season — and he’s starting to show up around the ball in the ways we’ve become accustomed to seeing. But Justin Jefferson will be a huge problem for the Kansas City secondary — and given the chance, he might exploit Sneed in coverage.
Others trending in the wrong direction: wide receiver Skyy Moore, tackle Jawaan Taylor and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Value (sleeper) pick: EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah
Even though he hasn’t shown up on the stat sheet very much, 2023’s first-round pick has been pretty impressive. His speed and bend on the edge have popped off of the screen, even as the pass-rushing glory has — as expected — been centered on Jones. But since the Vikings like to throw the ball downfield — and don’t have a very mobile quarterback — this game could be a coming-out party of sorts. On Sunday, No. 97 might just have a big game.